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Volume 52 / Humanities


20th Century Prose Fiction: Central America

RENE PRIETO, Associate Professor of Spanish, Southern Methodist University

THE MOST NOTICEABLE TREND in the prose fiction of Central America in the last two years is the overwhelming predominance of the short story. Such a turn is alarming for a number of reasons. To begin with, despite their many qualities, short stories have an inherent disadvantage: they are compact anecdotes rather than full-fledged fictional narratives. Under normal circumstances, this would not matter. All genres are welcomed and recognized for the place each occupies in the family of fiction. But what happens when other family members dwindle dramatically? In the past two years, hardly a novel, essay, or critical study has come out of Central America. Where have all the worthwhile writers gone? Where are the Augusto Monterrosos and the Monteforte Toledos who communicate through lavish plots and full-bodied character studies rather than through well-polished and sometimes facile anecdotes? What does this widespread tendency to write short stories to the almost total exclusion of other genres suggest about the state of Central American literature as we enter the 1990s?

Clues in answer to this question can be found when we examine the content of Central American writing. Much of it has political overtones, but what a far cry from the revolutionary zeal and zest for life of older authors writing only a short decade ago. Has the new generation run out of steam? Instead of the brillant, hopeful light that suffused Central American fiction, now all one detects through the iron grating of politics is a dim and disappointed glimmer. A militant literature that provided a revolutionary perspective of open fields and limitless horizons has shrivelled into a narrow fiction of exile and confinement exemplified by Horacio Castellanos Moya's "En Guinda," a story about two teenage brothers from El Salvador who must leave the country (item bi 89008655). The mood of Castellanos' original and trendy stories is depressed, and his characters are invariably trapped by conditions beyond their control, conditions that lead in turn to much defeatist introspection.

The theme of exile in the prose fiction coming out of Central America these days is not merely political, but moral and social as well. This is the case in V.A. Mora Rodríguez's title story in Nora y otros cuentos (item bi 89008691), a tale in which the heroine is pushed to her death by her own prejudiced and petty townsfolk. Regardless of the type of exile described by Central American authors, their characters are without exception estranged, set apart, and rejected by their own community, as in the case of Roberto Castillo's Premio Plural-winning story "La Laguna" (item bi 89008678). All of these tragic works emphasize a contemporary predicament, the diminishing capacity for communication among human beings today. Unlike fictional works of the previous generation, these stories are profoundly nihilistic.

The nihilism of these authors, however, is not the only reason for the estrangement of their characters. In Isis Tejeira's Sin fecha fija (item bi 89008666) and Irma Prego's Mensajes al más allá (item bi 89008688) the characters' difficulty in communicating is inherent to the condition of women as victims of repressive forces. Female characters in many works annotated below, such as those in Emilia Macaya Trejos' La sombra en el espejo (item bi 89008682) reject this state of victimization and embark in search of their true identity. This concern with feminism is not exclusive to fiction and is also evident in the field of Central American literary criticism. Examples are Luz Ivette Martínez's scholarly study of the four leading feminist writers of Costa Rica: Carmen Lyra, Yolanda Oreamuno, Julieta Pinto, and Carmen Naranjo (item bi 89008672). In recent years, the women of Central America have channeled their anger and frustration into works of literature, a tendency most noticeable in Costa Rica. Indeed, the fact that Costa Rica has become the most prolific center for aspiring authors of various tendencies, feminist or not (e.g., Emilia Macaya Trejos and Hugo Rivas) can be attributed to the nation's development of good publishing houses, the creation of intellectual support groups, and above all, the maintenance of a peaceful and tolerant climate in which to write.

With the exception of El Salvador, where militant literature is still being written (e.g., Juan Allwood Paredes' María Elena y la liberación nacional, item bi 89008649; and Oscar Benítez's Las huellas de una lucha sin final, item bi 89008645), there is a widespread tendency toward escapist writing in Central American countries: examples are Mauricio del Pinal's Indianista fantasy, 3-Caban (item bi 89008634), and a timely reedition of Froylán Turcios' handsomely written gothic tale, El vampiro (item bi 89008671). Escapist literature, as well as a parallel and not unrelated tendency towards the depiction of despotic figures (e.g., Fernando Durán Ayanegui's Tenés nombre de arcángel, item bi 89008661), suggest that in Central America authors are relying on tropes, subterfuges, and fantasy in order to portray and condemn the overwhelming pandemonium of repression and violence that surrounds them.

As far as literary criticism and reeditions are concerned, several new publications deserve to be mentioned. La novela del imperialismo en Centroamérica by Esther María Osses (item bi 89008644) should be commended for its thoroughness and critical insight. Francisco Albizúrez Palma's article "El Contexto Social de Asturias" (item bi 89003124) also deserves mention because of its interesting exploration of the symbiotic relationship between society, author, and literary production. Of cultural interest to the general public and specialist alike, are two reeditions: 1) Pablo Antonio Cuadra's best selling ethnological study, El nicaragüense (item bi 89008638), an insightful and amusing look at the people of Nicaragua; and 2) Flavio Herrera's justly famous Caos (item bi 89008680), especially the poignant and beautifully written chapter on indigenismo entitled "El Muro."

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